Sunday, December 23, 2018

DAY 30: Mornings at Banstead

Morning gallops, Newmarket

Horse racing was in Jennie Jerome's blood--her father, Leonard, founded two racetracks, one at Jerome Park and the other at Sheepshead Bay, and inaugurated the Belmont Stakes in honor of his great friend, August Belmont. Everyone in the Marlborough House Set was mad about Thoroughbreds, flat racing, and steeplechases, including the Prince of Wales, who founded a notable stud at Sandringham Queen Elizabeth fosters to this day. But it was not until Lord Randolph Churchill lost interest in a political career as his illness worsened that Jennie got involved in racing herself.

l'Abbesse de Jouare and her colt, Desmond
Randolph and his partner, Lord Dunraven, bought a yearling filly at the Doncaster sales in 1887, a bargain at 300 pounds because she was undersized and neither her dam nor sire had much of a winning record. Jennie named the jet-black horse l'Abbesse de Jouare, after the main character of a popular novel she'd been reading. The Churchill horses raced in pink and chocolate silks--colors Jennie would adopt when campaigning on her husband's behalf.

Banstead Manor today; the house the Churchills leased was
demolished in the 1920s.
The Churchills promptly leased Banstead Manor near Newmarket (now a famous stud, Juddmonte Farm, owned by Prince Khalid bin Abdullah of Saudi Arabia). There, Jennie and the boys--both by that time students at Harrow--spent the summer months watching their horses train on the Newmarket gallops. Jennie's sisters, Leonie and Clarita, brought their children to stay. Winston built a hut for himself and his cousins he called The Den. He constructed a drawbridge over the estate's ancient moat, set up a trebuchet, and commenced endless battles of siege warfare. 

Randolph was rarely around. Charles Kinsky rented a house nearby, and taught the Churchill boys how to shoot. These were idyllic days for Winston and his brother Jack.

In 1889, l'Abbesse won the Oaks at Epsom, to everyone's shock. As Jennie recalled in her memoirs: 

"The shining light of our stable was L'Abbesse de Jouarre... . She was a gallant little thing, with a heart bigger than her body, and her size made the public so skeptical, that she invariably started at long odds. When she won the Oaks, those who backed her got 20-1. Neither Randolph nor I saw that performance. He was fishing in Norway, and I was spending a few days with some friends who had a house on the Thames. I remember being in a launch on the river and reaching Boulter's Lock shortly after the hour of the race. On my asking the lockkeeper which horse had won the big race, he replied to my great delight and amusement, "The Abscess on the Jaw."

Although the Churchills continued to train and race horses for some years afterward, l'Abbesse remained their finest finisher--winning the Manchester Cup, the Princess of Wales Stakes at Sandown, and the Portland Stakes. Randolph was forced to sell his interest in the mare to Lord Dunraven in 1894, prior to leaving on his final trip around the world; and the summer days at Banstead came to a close.

Winston Churchill had caught the racing bug, however--or perhaps it was simply latent in his bloodline. At age 75, after retiring from government, he bought his first racehorse--and the colt came home repeatedly for him. At age 80, Winston embarked on breeding mares at a stud farm. 
Winston Churchill in the winner's circle with his his racehorse, Colonist II, who won
the Winston Churchill Stakes at Hurst Park, May 14, 1951  AP/Don Royale

His grandfather Leonard would have been thrilled.
Juddmonte Farms, Banstead Manor, stableyard today
For more images from THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN, visit the  Pinterest board behind the novel. 

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